Each time September rolls around, three small words strike fear into the hearts of many: Back to School. I know even 60-year olds who break into a cold sweat at the prospect – even though it’s been a few decades since they hung up their satchels. So, how to combat these misgivings? As far as I can recall, salvation would come in the form of a stationery spree – a brand new pen, a fluffy pencil case or the crisp white pages of a new diary.
For me, the lentil is the food equivalent to school – I know it’s ultimately good for me and always end up enjoying it more than I imagine. In the lentil’s case, it’s what you dress it with that makes it great. In this case: mackerel. More specifically, tinned mackerel fillets (no grappling with bones necessary).
This doesn’t sound exciting, however since signing up to Hugh’s Fish Fight and eschewing the old favourite of tuna, I have turned to tinned mackerel to top baked potatoes and fill sandwiches too. Judging by the silver-haired company I keep in that particular section of the tinned-food aisle in the supermarket, it is a food as retro as its packaging suggests.
There are certain dishes that recur often in the BSG household and alongside roast chicken and spaghetti Bolognese, this tops the list. A feel-good dish in every sense, it tastes great, is 100% good for you and elevates the lentil to another plain. There’s nothing easier to whip up after a bout of overindulgence, and I swear it makes you shout cleverer answers at University Challenge. It’s back to school without the dread, plus you usually have the wherewithal for it in your cupboards when you can’t face a food shop at the end of a long day. Enjoy its countless permutations.
Lentil and mackerel salad (I think it’s a salad)
Whatever is languishing in the fridge, but a few suggestions might be:
Cherry tomatoes, quartered
Any other soft green herbs or salad leaves wilting into anonymity in your vegetable drawer
Olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper
Boil the lentils according to packet instructions, with a bay leaf and a bit of stock powder if you have any.
Whilst the lentils are boiling, chop the vegetables and herbs and put everything into a bowl. Make a salad dressing (perhaps a bit sharper than you usually have it as the lentils will slightly dull this – mustard works very well in there somewhere).
Drain the lentils, and then add them to the bowl whilst still warm – if you have used any spinach or rocket leaves, this has the pleasing effect of wilting them slightly. Drain the mackerel fillets from their oil and add them to the bowl, stirring gently through with a fork so that they slightly break up.
Add the dressing, mix and season with salt and pepper. Have a lemon on hand to squeeze over if necessary.
Enjoy a big bowlful and feel very smug.